Google Reveals Prototype 3D Model Viewer for AR Apps

Google's Article 3D viewer enables users to view digital content imposed on real-world images.


Google has developed a prototype 3D model viewer as part of its ongoing effort to bring more augmented reality capabilities to smartphones and tablets.

Google's Article prototype model viewer works on all browsers and allows users to view and interact with digital content superimposed on, or blended with, real-world images.

For example, the technology will allow a mobile device user to superimpose a 3D digital image of a couch on the live image of the user’s family room to see whether it would fit. The viewer would let the user do a virtual walk around the couch and get a sense of its scale and to see how it would look from different angles within the room.

The Article prototype viewer itself only allows developers to interact with the 3D image of a space suit. When the viewer is loaded on an augmented reality-capable browser and device, an AR button appears on the bottom of the screen. By tapping on it, a user can activate the device camera and place the 3D image on a specific spot on the live image of the ground in front of the user.

The 3D model would appear to be fixed to the ground and rendered at its physical size, said Reza Ali and Josh Carpenter, members of Google's Daydream augmented reality team, in a January 22 blog post. "The user can walk around the object and get a sense of scale and immediacy that images and video alone cannot convey," they said.

With actions like scrolling and touch and drag, users can then move and place the object at different spots on the live image, zoom in and out, or walk around the object. With each move and repositioning, features on the object, such as lighting and shadows, change so the object blends in with the surroundings, the two Google engineers said.

"The unique power of AR is to blend digital content with the real world," Ali and Carpenter said. "So we can, for example, surf the web, find a model, place it in our room to see just how large it truly is, and physically walk around it."

Hundreds of millions of Android and iOS devices will soon become available that support AR capabilities, the two Google engineers said. Article is an example of the kind of work Google is doing to make the technology accessible to everybody.

Google is among a growing list of technology companies rushing to take advantage of the surging interest in virtual reality and augmented reality technologies. Analyst firm IDC estimated worldwide revenues for the AR and VR market segment at nearly $14 billion in 2017. The company has predicted revenues will hit over $143 billion by 2020 at an astonishing compound annual growth rate of over 198 percent.

A lot of the demand on the VR side so far has come from the gaming market, but producers are quickly moving beyond games to other types of VR content as well, according to IDC. In the augmented reality side, a growing number of commercial entities have begun evaluating the technology and developing applications supporting the capability, IDC said.

Google itself has been working on AR technologies for several years. Last year it released ARCore, a software development kit (SDK) designed to help developers integrate support for augmented reality in their applications. The SDK works on all Android devices running version 7.0 or higher of the operating system and allows developers to embed capabilities like motion tracking, light estimation and environmental understanding into their mobile applications, according to Google.

Jaikumar Vijayan

Jaikumar Vijayan

Vijayan is an award-winning independent journalist and tech content creation specialist covering data security and privacy, business intelligence, big data and data analytics.